Despite the average apparel size in the U.S. being between 16 and 18, shopping for clothing when you’re plus-size is more often than not cause for frustration. Not only are there fewer brands that carry plus-size offerings, but the ones that do rarely give the designs the attention they deserve, leaving most women to decide between body-con dresses and muumuus with little variation in between. The clothing that pays attention to trends often comes from fast-fashion brands and, as such, lacks in quality and good fit. Not surprisingly, the fashion industry’s lack of concern for the plus-size community isn’t confined to just clothing. In fact, the issue is just as apparent in other departments. For example, boots. Brands — even ones dedicated to serving plus-size women — rarely offer boots that fit them. When they do, like with clothing, the options can be limited, styles subpar, and the silhouette ill-fitting.
This is hardly news for the plus-size community. One look at Twitter, and the topic is much discussed. “Can plus-size companies be more creative with their boots this year? Can we have thigh-high boots? Not over the knee, but legitimately thigh high,” asked EMM Fashion, a fashion consultant. “Can we get different styles, colors, and prints this year? Different heel styles? Lastly, can we get thick padding, as well? Thanks!” @Oveeoexxo tweeted: “Why is it so hard to find thigh-high boots for plus-size women? I’m so frustrated!” Tamara shared her frustration, too, and took to the platform to ask for suggestions: “Who sells ankle boots that fit plus-size legs? Can’t say I’m surprised but it seems a bit of a tough one.” Despite shoppers openly asking for options to buy, and plus-size boot collections known to sell out immediately, apart from a few one-off releases, the community continues to go under-served in the boot department. Why is that?
According to designers who have crafted well-made and -fitting boots for women with thicker calves and thighs, simply put, they are hard to make, which is why so few brands attempt them. Alexandra Waldman, co-founder and chief creative officer at Universal Standard, told Refinery29 that making a boot that looks elegant and fits a plus-size calf is “very difficult.”
“There are many things to consider [when designing a size-inclusive boot], including the interior engineering of the boots, the design, the fabrication, the impact made by each footfall, heel stability, and also width,” she says. “And then making sure that there’s a sweet spot for all these elements because we’re talking about creating a pair that will fit everyone and not having to create separate categories. It’s a very specialized process that took us well over a year to complete.”
As Waldman mentions, Universal Standard carries straight and plus sizes together, rather than separating them, as most in the industry tend to do. So, for the brand to design boots, it had to create a style that would fit a shoe size 6 and 13. (Another issue in footwear? Most brands top out at size 11.) Despite the long timeline and the lofty task at hand, Waldman and her team succeeded. In 2019, Universal Standard launched two pairs of boots — an ankle boot and a knee-high boot. “We saw a positive response from shoppers such that we completely sold out of them,” Waldman says. (Despite the success, more than a year later, the brand hasn’t restocked, nor have they offered new styles.)
“We get emails, DMs, and comments every day,” says Nick Kaplan, the president of plus-size brand Fashion To Figure. “Our social listening and customer feedback led us to really develop our long-term strategy to expand our offering in footwear.” Due to the pandemic, though, Kaplan’s had to scale back initially planned efforts. “This fall, we can only offer four boots because of the impact COVID-19 had on our sourcing channels,” he says. Instead, FTF chose to once again partner with fashion blogger Nadia Aboulhosn on a collection of thigh-high boots for plus-size women.
The duo first partnered up in September 2019, on an 18-piece collection that included two pairs of thigh-highs, ankle boots, heels, and accessories. “Thigh high boots for those thicky thick legs,” Aboulhosn wrote on Instagram in 2019 alongside a campaign video that showed her walking in suede, pointed toe, thigh-high boots. “We’ve worked so hard on this collection (my hands and under boobs are sweating even just typing this)!” The second collection, while smaller than the first, includes more thigh-high options, with snakeskin, leopard print, and chocolate brown patent leather styles making their way into the mix.
“I’ve always loved a thigh-high boot, but found it difficult to constantly try and source boots that I didn't have to question whether or not they were going to fit me,” Aboulhosn told Refinery29. “I would have to take them to a cobbler and cut the back of them to add fabric so they’d work for my upper thigh. That, or I would have to order them and do a ton of returning until I found one that fit me properly.” For her, and many women, the experience was exhausting. “FTF and I both knew that boots were missing in the fashion space so we wanted to fill that void,” she says. To ensure that the second FTF x Nadia boot drop checked off as many boxes for plus-size women as the first, Aboulhosn worked closely with the brand’s designers to “perfect the plus-size thigh-high boot silhouette. We used luxe colors, prints, textures, an adjustable lace-up, and literally the most perfect heel height,” she continues. “It’s both sexy and practical” — two things that in the plus-size fashion industry are rarely seen as synonymous.
According to Aboulhosn, the most frustrating aspect of shopping for boots as a plus-size woman is the inequality of it all. “I'll feel better when there are as many options for plus-size as there are for everyone else,” she says. Take, for example, Nordstrom’s boot selection. (Nordstrom is one of only a few retailers that does offer wide-leg boot options from brands like Franco Sarto, Jeffrey Campbell, and Marc Fisher.) According to my calculations, the retailer houses 2,855 pairs of boots on its website — according to the site’s filter, only 75 of them are wide-leg. (Nordstrom considers a wide-leg boot to be one with a 16” or higher calf measurement.) What’s more, other than a few rogue rain boots and color variations, most of the 75 options are identical. Think: leather or suede knee-high riding boots. And that’s coming from a retailer that’s been praised for its wide-leg boot selection.
“[The footwear industry] needs to provide a bigger selection and make footwear accessible to everyone, especially when it comes to booties and thigh-high boots,” says Aboulhosn.
When asked why she thinks the industry’s been so slow to accommodate plus-size women, Aboulhosn says, “I really couldn't tell you.” If we are to believe experts, making boots that correctly fit curvier women is difficult. But given that almost 70% of women in the U.S. and Canada are considered plus-size — and fashion brands similarly having to take extra steps to ensure proper fit in clothing — is that a reason to not at least try?
“Plus-size women spend on fashion and they want choice,” Abuolhosn says. “I applaud anyone who does take their time to try to understand and get sizing and fit right… I understand that can take some time, especially for smaller brands, but to the larger brands: you either don’t care or you really don’t get it.”